Definition of Potential

The difference in mere potential and its fulfillment is, as Mark Twain once observed, as big as the discrepancy between lightning and lightning bug.

It's a word mixed with probability and possibility, but one that is nothing but dangerous on its own. (See: 2004 football.)

And so although grand capability is there for the Mountaineer defensive line, the record remains unwritten as to whether it leans toward the 2003 domination of Virginia Tech, or the 2001 embarrassment at Wisconsin.

"It's all on us now," said end Warren Young. "We have to learn to play together, to believe in each other. Because everything else we've got. We got coaching, athletes, we got talent. It's on us as to how we do."

That's the unknown, the wild card of chemistry that even season vets can?t tell exists. Teams can't be carried by chemistry alone, but it's the only aspect that transforms average units into good ones and modifies good to great.

Ernest Hunter is the keystone, the middle of a defense designed to be strongest there. A pure nose guard, Hunter's five years make him 303 pounds of intelligent muscle.

"I'm an inside guy at heart, I can tell," Hunter said. "I wouldn't feel right without the contact. It wouldn't be football as I know it."

Flank that 6-4 physicality with run-stopper Keilen Dykes -- a pure footballer whose instincts lead him -- and Craig Wilson, a blend of Hunter's machismo and Dykes' quickness, and coach Bill Kirelawich has the potential for a 1-2-3 punch unmatched in recent years.

"Oh, they can be good," Kirlawich said in the spring. "That doesn't do anything for me now, though. They have to be willing, as a group, to come together and do the work. It's not even worth commenting on them individually, because they have to play as one."

The piece missing from recent groups was a pure rusher, a dogged defender with the mass, mettle and breakneck momentum bent on attacking the vulnerable and ripping it apart.

Johnny Dingle could be that piece, a slice of Stills and Curtis whose speed off the end is buoyed by his astuteness not to overplay that trait. Add in Andrae Wright's wreckingball size (he's another potential starter) and steady sophomore Pat Liebig, and West Virginia has the potential - potential - to create backfield havoc unseen in half a decade.

"It's what we'll have this year more than the past," Dykes said. "We'll rush. And I don't care if it's three-man, four-man or five-man rush. It's our job to get there."

They haven't in the past, and still haven't this year. But their first chance to prove it possible comes Thursday, when West Virginia puts on full pads for the first time and this group -- all 44-feet, 1,978 pounds -- challenges an offensive line considered among the Big East's best.

They have 25 days. A national television audience will judge if potential has turned to realization.

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